LAHORE: The Model Town incident and its aftermath continued to reverberate the Punjab Assembly (PA) on the third consecutive day on Thursday and opposition members walked out of the House to register their protest against refusal by the chair to suspend the rules in order to debate the issue thoroughly while the finance minister wound up the general debate on annual budget for 2014-15.
The session began an hour and 13 minutes late to its schedule time of 10am with Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan in the chair.
On a point of order, Opposition Leader Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed once again demanded that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah must tender their resignations in the wake of Model Town incident.
He urged the chief minister and the law minister to come the House and inform the members about the Model Town incident. He also demanded the speaker to suspend the rules and hold an open debate on what he called “much sensitive issue” than the budget debate.
The speaker asked the opposition leader to submit a call attention notice on the matter in order to enable him to allow the opposition members to debate the issue because he (chair) couldn’t suspend the rules. The opposition started protest against this response of the chair and later walked out of the House.
After about 10 minutes or so, the opposition members joined the session after obtaining a commitment from the treasury that they could debate the issue after submitting a call attention notice on Friday (today).
During the general discussion on budget, treasury members ritually appreciated the budget while the opposition members rejected it.
Praising the budget, some of treasury members suggested the government to also bring private school owners and doctors, who were practicing privately in clinics or hospitals, into discipline (tax net). They suggested converting 20,000 tube-wells from electricity to biogas in the next fiscal year. Some of them also condemned the Model Town incident and expressed their sorrow and grief. They also demanded empowering the standing committees of the House. They pointed out that though amendments to the Police Order, 2002, had been carried out in pursuance of the 18th Amendment, the home secretary had not been empowered still and that because of this reason alone, disorganised and unplanned police actions like the Model Town incident take place.
While, the opposition members said that the budget was not tax-free, as 86 percent indirect and 18 percent direct taxes have been imposed. They said that amounts allocated to different heads were basically block allocations to be used on the discretion of the chief minister for purposes other than the prescribed ones. They also demanded the constitution of the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC). They said that the people of Punjab were starving for food but the government was busy in constructing roads, bridges and metro bus projects.
They urged the government to first start some agriculture and irrigation projects in order to ensure food security before executing mega infrastructure projects. They criticised what they called meagre allocation of Rs 500 million for minorities, noting that the budget for minorities was less then the budget allocated for zoos.
Winding up the debate, Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman said that facts and figures about budget allocations given by the opposition were totally wrong.
He said that the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa kept the budget of Chief Minister’s Secretariat secrete in order to avoid criticism but that the PML-N government had presented all facts before the nation.
He said that the budget document was his government’s road map for the next four years and that it would start yielding positive results very soon. He said that 3,000 vacancies of nurses would be created during the next fiscal year while a burns centre would start functioning at Jinnah Hospital within a year.
As the finance minister was about to start his concluding speech, an opposition member, Arif Abassi, pointed out that the House was inquorate that created panic among the treasury as only 70 members were present instead of 94 – the minimum number of legislators required to keep the House quorate.
The government sprang into action and immediately called some of treasury members from MPAs Hostel within the 15-minute break announced for that purpose in order to maintain the quorum.
PML-Q Parliamentary Leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi and other party members have submitted a resolution against the Model Town incident to the assembly secretariat and it is likely to be taken up during today’s session that will start at 9am.
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